In the late nineties, I worked in a family literacy program with parents who did not complete high school, and had at least one child under the age of four. Part of this was new territory for me because daily I was thrust into a world of food insecurity, homelessness, abuse, and unsafe situations. During one home visit in particular I found out that the address the mother had given me did not exist. She and her children slept wherever they could find a place, ate whatever they could scavenge, and hid their lives in plain sight. Can you imagine the energy this took? I knew that in order to understand the community that I was serving I had to turn my values upside down in order to understand the energy it took my families to survive each day. They didn’t have the privilege of an education, secure housing, and a healthy support system, and they showed up!
When the report on child homelessness in America came out this week, it sparked a conversation that took me back to those days of serving families who were home insecure. Most of the people in my life (family and friends) did not want to hear me talk about my day if it involved the awfulness of the events of the day…and there were some awful days. They wanted to hear about the irresistible laughter of the two-year-olds or the adventures of me getting lost in my hometown trying to find homes on unmarked roads (pre-GPS). The tough stuff overwhelms us, especially when we believe we have nothing to offer to fix the situation.
We are so blessed as disciples of Jesus Christ. We can delight in the laughter, and also offer love to those who are in need. It is not an either/or situation. Ministry with children is a both/and. We serve the children in the congregation and the children in the larger community. We use all appropriate resources to help our children grow in faith, to help them grow as disciples. We also focus our efforts on going out as disciples of Jesus Christ to serve children in need.
On the night of the Incarnation, Mary and Joseph were literally home insecure. More children than we want to admit came into this world no different from Jesus. There are between 100 and 150 million children around the world living on the street. 2.5 million children in America do not have a place to call home. How many children in your community are homeless?
Just because a child lives in the cycle of poverty does not make that child hopeless. We can offer hope by being the hands and feet of Jesus. We can offer children and their families hope by going out into the communities where we live to advocate for children, to make sure all children’s needs are met, and by going beyond Christmas toy drives. They need us the other 364 days a year, too.
The church can also respond to this crisis by supporting local agencies that offer effective responses to child homelessness like:
• Safe, affordable housing
• Education and employment opportunities
• Comprehensive needs assessments of all family members
• Services that incorporate trauma-informed care
• Attention to identification, prevention, and treatment of major depression in mothers
• Parenting supports for mothers
• Research to identify evidence-based programs and services
As we think about what books we need to offer children, let’s also think about purchasing those books for children who may never have a new book. Let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus!